All Aboard le “Moscou-Paris”

Winter 005
Frozen sunset, February 2012

It sounds rather like a jolly luxury express, doesn’t it? A competitor, perhaps, to the Orient Express, with starched white tablecloths, gleaming silverware and sycophantic stewards. If only it were. In fact, le “Moscou-Paris” is the meteorologists’ nickname for a wave of glacial air straight from Siberia, rendered even colder by a sustained wind, and it’s heading for us now. From Russia with love, indeed.

Glacial episodes

These episodes occur every so often when an anticyclone drags the cold air in from the East. Then, temperatures plummet to well below zero, often remaining negative during the day. Since the weather system is pretty substantial, the conditions can last for up to two weeks. Because of the wind-chill factor, the real feel can be well below the temperature actually recorded on the thermometer.

This is the third such episode we have experienced in our 20 years here. The first was around the year 2000. It occurred then in January and went on for a couple of weeks. The second was in February 2012 and also lasted a fortnight. On that occasion, our neighbours at the farm down the hill said the thermometer registered minus 18C one morning.

Winter 2013 - front view today
We haven’t seen snow like this for several years – and hope we won’t

This time, le “Moscou-Paris” is happening rather late in the winter. It’s unusual for it to continue into March.

Colder than you might think

Where we live is the south of France. If you look at the map, it’s a long way down. The weather can be surprisingly cold here, though, because it has a continental climate. Also, we are 320 metres (around 1,000 ft) above sea level on the edge of the Massif Central.

Unfortunately, when you move here, no one tells you how freezing it can be – or how much you will spend on heating. In fact, some agents have been known to say only that you might need to heat for a couple of months in the winter. My response to that is not repeatable in polite company.

I have to admit that, when we are sitting in the shade during a canicule (heatwave) it’s hard to imagine huddling in front of the woodburner. Equally, when swathed in pullies, fleeces and socks, it’s difficult to contemplate plunging into the pit in the garden that we call a swimming pool. I suppose variety makes life interesting…

Legendary lows

So far, however, we are fortunate not to have experienced some of the low temperatures that have become legendary. In January 1985, the temperature plunged to minus 22.5C at Caylus, the record low for Tarn-et-Garonne. Locally it went even lower. Monsieur F, our neighbour, says the thermometer touched minus 28C and they had terrible trouble watering the cattle because the pipes froze and the ice was solid in the troughs. [Incidentally, Caylus also holds the record for the highest temperature, 42.4C in August 2003.]

Happily, Météo France is not forecasting those sorts of temperatures this time. However, parts of the Alps and the Jura might experience a real feel of minus 25C.

Winter 2012 - squirrel absorbed in walnut
Unusually tame squirrel. This little fellow probably has enough to eat, unlike some humans, no doubt.

Whatever happens, we have central heating, a woodburner and warm clothes. I shudder to think how it must be for the poor souls, the sans abri, the homeless. Although all the départements will activate their alertes grand froid to provide shelter for these people, there are bound to be some unfortunates who slip through the net. I simply cannot imagine what it must be like to sleep rough on an “ordinary” winter’s night, let alone during le “Moscou-Paris”.

Winter 001
Wintry view behind our house in 2012

You might also like:

How to Stay Warm in Winter
Winter Warmers: Chansons and Cassoulet
Nature Comes Back to Life

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    • It was colder and went on for longer in 2012. It’s not gone above freezing today, but by the end of the week the temperatures will be back up again. At least we are seeing the sun here for a change.


  1. Hope you miss the worst of it, Vanessa. I’ve delayed my return to the Alps and skiing, as for Wednesday morning they’ve forecast minus 26° at the top of the pistes. We’re due frost here but not much, I live only 10 metres about sea-level.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s pretty cold here today, but at least it’s bright, unlike the rest of the winter so far. We skied in Canada at minus 25C and it was not much fun, so I don’t blame you for delaying your return.


  2. As you know, I’m a snowbird and not at. all averse to plummeting temperatures so long as I also get warm springs, hot summers and long autumns. In Cantal, snow is a regular visitor generally from November and sometimes, as last year, into May. So I thought I knew all about cold but New England taught me that I am a mere novice …. what they treat as normal left me shuddering indoors! Foolishly, by the way, I have planned a trip with my daughter, who is staying, to Marcolès on Wednesday and thence down to Carcassonne, on to Arles and home (my parents in law kept a home near Arles so it’s a trip down memory lane for her and she has never been to Carcassonne) – looking at the forecast and reading the warnings I think I may have lost my marbles once and for all!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The older I get, I’m afraid the more I need the warmth and sunshine. I don’t mind too much if it’s cold as long as it’s bright, but most of the winter has been horribly gloomy. At least today the sun is out.

      Marcolès this Wednesday may not be the best move, since that’s the day it’s planning to snow, I believe. However, after that it will get much warmer – and rainy again, groan.

      Bon courage!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you – unfortunately I don’t think we can defer to Thursday since we have to get the whole three day trip in by the time la fille numéro deux flies back to Britain at the start of next week (and all the attendant packing and deciding what dear old mule-mum will bring over in April 😉) …. I might decide to do the trip backwards and head to Provence, looping west and then North to Marcolès). Who knows …. I must admit the sun shining today is such a boon. I don’t like grey and dull either and I can’t abide incessant rain! I forgot to say — I hope you are recovering well from the grip of la grippe …. ghastly and I wish you much much better very soon.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. YES yes and OUI….. We’ve got a ‘warning’ from SUEZ the water-company to wrap stuff around our pipes and water meters and we’re promised -7C for the next days. With the wind it feels more like -17C! Are back from Paris and it was quite funny to see all the fashionable ppl young and not so young with their long, large and wide scarves, foulards across their faces, knitted hats on their heads, mittens galore. Even I as a winter-proof Swiss girl was going ‘gla-gla-gla’ all along and a winter warmer was ordered quickly before having lunch!
    And doesn’t Moscou-Paris sound mysterious, great and promising…. more cold weather probably.
    We did however have sunshine yesterday and today – changed everything, and the mornings are already much brighter! Spring will come! Just not quite yet. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Parisians aren’t used to those sorts of temperatures. Fortunately, this is forecast now to last only a few days, so it won’t be one of those that goes on for a fortnight.

      It’s still below zero here today, but the sun is out and there’s a bright blue sky. I would rather have this than the gloomy weather we had for the rest of the winter.

      Spring is not far away…

      Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t wait. I’ve had la grippe for the past week, despite being vaccinated, so I need a Moscou-Paris like a hole in the head. In fact, since yesterday, the forecasts have been amended, so that it gets significantly warmer from Thurs.


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